Do not build it. Not there

A New York Times editorial attacks 9/11 families for attacking plans for the International Freedom Center at the World Trade Center.

But in the past few weeks, we’ve watched a handful of vocal family members, who may not represent a majority of 9/11 families, change the dynamic at the World Trade Center site for the worse. They have begun a movement to “take back the memorial,” which means, in essence, eventually purging ground zero of its cultural partners, including the International Freedom Center.

Well, I’d say we could easily turn that paragraph around and say that in the prior few weeks, we’d seen the International Freedom Center change the dynamics at the World Trade Center for the worse. They played a game of ideological hide-and-seek, taking a picture of a victorious, purple-fingered Iraqi voter out of their presentation because, apparently, democracy in Iraq isn’t freedom worth celebrating. They created unimaginable links between 9/11 and American sins of slavery and, by implication, links to the why-they-hate-us worldview of 9/11 and terrorism. They said there’d be debate at the World Trade Center when, until then, I don’t think anyone imagined there would be anything other than memorial and tribute there.

The Times continues:

This protest resulted in a shocking response in late June from Gov. George Pataki. He openly joined the criticism of one of those institutions – the Drawing Center – for an exhibition that it sponsored, in another part of town, that contains controversial images of 9/11 and America’s role in the world. And he has called on all the cultural partners at ground zero for reassurances that their programs will harmonize with the concerns of this small group of family members.

What’s shocking is that anyone ever thought it would be a good idea to have such debates over the graves of the heroes and innocents of 9/11. It was a bad idea to include such an institution there. When I first heard “cultural center” at the World Trade Center, I was thinking perhaps a nice theater or perhaps a downtown extension of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, not a forum for debating issues (and bashing us). But, of course, once you open the doors to art and expression, you can’t shut it off to some and not others; that is not the American way. And so what’s mistaken is to open those doors there, at this sacred place. Do it elsewhere. Not at the World Trade Center.

The Times also takes quite a couple of swipes at the 9/11 families (my emphass):

By attempting to appease one small, vocal group of protesters who are unlikely to be appeased anyway, he is abrogating the rights of everyone else…. What was offered as an open invitation to restore the artistic life of Lower Manhattan will have turned into an invitation to provide only the kind of cultural offerings that please a vocal group of people whose genuine grief has already taken on a sharply political edge.

As if the IFC did not take on a sharply political edge? As if Pataki does not live by politics? That, once more, is why it is a mistake to have this debate there. Where is the debate society headquarters at Arlington? Where is the controversial gallery at Auschwitz? Why are they building this at the World Trade Center?

: Full disclosure: This has been my advice on this blog and, directly, to Debra Burlingame, who now leads this protest. As I told you here, I spoke with her after her Wall Street Journal op-ed exposed what was happening at the IFC and advised that she should not find herself in a game of trying to edit and revise the committee behind the IFC or what it stands for or says; there is no winning that. Instead, I said, the memorial should be reserved for memory and tribute and we should not build distractions to that. I said that should be the families’ goal. Obviously, I was not the only one who advised that. But I’m not a disinterested, dispassionate observer in this story. (Further full disclosure: I consult for a division of the NYTimes Company but I have utterly no connection with the paper’s editorial page.)